Giorgio Bocca – The jukebox is too tight for Mina – ll Giorno 11.12.1960

Giorgio Bocca – The Day
11.12.1960

Tonight Mina has crazy hair and a dress on which sequins shine. Pale. Slender, her eyes dilated with neurotic rage, the girl wrings her hands to overcome the disgust of strangers breathing down on her.
We are in a dance hall on the outskirts of Turin. With two thousand five hundred liras each (almost two days’ work) the young men of the neighborhood paid themselves, for one hour, for the physical presence of Italy’s most famous “screamer”; the lucky ones, now, surround her little table, under the orchestra. I can’t take it anymore. It’s sweltering hot. Six or seven guys in red jackets make deafening, boisterous music amidst shiny stuff, unpleasant colors and bad smells. I observe the young people surrounding Mina. One, in a blue suit and silver tie, with a rabbit-like face, has been staring at the back of her head, from an inch away, ebony, impish, and motionless, for several minutes. Another comes with her curls an inch from her face. He occasionally smiles and blinks. Around them all tend postcards and autograph sheets imploring with hoarse voices, “sign it for us, Mina, please.” A skinny, gaunt photographer no longer knows what allusive eyes to make as he asks her to slip the fur coat off her shoulders. Then he is being gracious as he begs her to caress a little girl, dragged, who knows by whom, into that bedlam.
“Hey, you,” says Mina, “can’t you see you’re crushing my mother?”
The young men stop, retreating a few inches. Their way of looking at it lubricious and miserable. They spent, to be close to her, almost two days of work.
I make it clear to Mina that I have something to ask her. She bends her beautiful face between the glasses.

“Will you still be singing here tomorrow night?”
“No,” he says, “I will be in La Spezia.”

“Every night in a different city?”
“Almost every night, I can’t take it anymore.”

“But for what purpose? Isn’t she as rich as they say?”
“I am paying for my sins of impatience. I have an impresario who combines these corvées, I have to be there.”

A guy, dressed in purple, has climbed onto the orchestra platform and stutters a few sentences to announce to the huge, smoky, noisy cavern Mina’s first song.
“Wait for me,” she says, dropping the fur coat into the hands of her mother, a discreet and taciturn handmaiden. Then she rushes up the steps, grabs a microphone, responds to cheers, agile, nervous, with feline movements.
“I see there are many young people among you,” I hear her say, “I am sure we will get along well.”

The small talk is trite and she pulls it off with little conviction, like something that has been repeated too many times. One would guess from the gestures that he is eager to sing. In fact, he sings as if venting, drawing out, at last, with his voice, the stigma and shame in his body, throwing his voice against the slimy and pathetic looks of the young men, crowded into the cavern.
I also listen to his famous voice “flickering like pinball lights” and with sobs “that give a long shiver,” according to his biographers.
I am not a connoisseur, but I like this voice. Hot, violent, true, it has the power to redeem even a dumb audience. Many in the hall rose to follow his singing. Suddenly clean, I would like to say chaste, with lively and elegant gestures and looks. There is no doubt: Mina is one of those beings-motors with whom others join in feeling uplifted, pulled along, warmed by warmer blood, guided by more ready hearing, quicker feet. There is something like an innocent drug in his voice, capable of multiplying strength, rejuvenating the spirit, exciting vital energies.

When she returns to the coffee table to rest, I ask her to tell me about this voice of hers.
“In what sense?” she says.

“I would like to know if this vocal instrument completely satisfies you. I would like to know how you built it.”
“I never thought about it,” he says.

Where did the miracle happen? She may be acting a part, but she may be sincere. In two years of a tumultuous career, she must have lacked the time to analyze this talent of hers, which happened to her suddenly, like a disease or a miracle.
Where and under what circumstance is hard to say. Popular legend has taken hold of this girl to such an extent that she endures and suffers the ambiguity of an anecdote that is almost all made up.
Where did the miracle of his voice happen?
She makes a vague gesture, letting others tell. “One evening in ’58,” the story goes, “she was in Portofino. Marino Barreto heard her singing and….”. “But no, it was in Rivarolo del Re, during a village festival. She went into the dance hall, approached the microphones and….”. “To be precise it happened at the home of some friends of his in Cremona. The pianist Pino Donzelli was there…..”

The rocket in the garden Mina does not give her authenticity to any of these versions. After all, one is as good as the other. In all of them a naturalistic optimism lives and flourishes in a provincial setting of Cremonese people at the seaside and country snacks.
Mina, as they know her, as millions of young people have built her up, is in essence a healthy tortellini eater who pretends, at times, to be a bit of beatnik, a bit of joke youth. All she has to do is put on a pair of blue-jeans and mess up her hair. Nothing more is asked of his inner torment. Then he can ride around in a white spider, earn millions and dress up by the finest seamstresses.

“What is true,” I ask her, “about the story of the rocket that you allegedly built with your own hands and exploded in your backyard?”
“Nothing,” she says, “but because it was a good gimmick I didn’t deny it. People want me nutty, crazy. So let them say I build missiles in my backyard.”
Nutty yes, but from a good and wealthy family. The small industrialist father who bends, gruffly benevolent, to his daughter’s profitable whims. Her mother, so good-natured, so old-fashioned, a shy lady who is apt to follow her to all the musical mixes on the peninsula, and even to Rome’s infamous Cinecittà. A brother three years younger staying in boarding school prey to reflected glory. A host of admirers, from mad lovers to judicious admirers such as the shoemaker Carmelo who insists in his letters, “Being in Sicily you tell me how can I see you in attendance? She seeks me a place to work in the North so I, as soon as I have the time available, see her.”
These are the limits of the “revolt” that Italian youth like. All the more admired by students and apprentices the faster and more substantial her fortune was.
A few records in ’58, success in a young singers’ contest, and then in the span of a few months the overwhelming glory of jukeboxes, television, and movies.

“Were you able to realize,” I ask her, “a popularity that was growing around you with epidemic virulence?”
“No,” she says, “everything happened so fast. They say I put my finger in the machine and got hooked. That I am also a jukebox token. But I, I assure you, will have the strength to pull myself out of it.”

“When are you going to plant this stuff?”, I ask her, hinting at the patites clutching our siege table.
Mina stands up. “Please,” says his imperious voice, and the little boys clustered on the ladder roll down in fear. She dignified ascends the platform, goes to sing the last sobs, the last gasps stipulated by the contract.

“I’m confused.” They say you earn four to five hundred thousand liras for evenings like this. Not bad even for a girl from a good family. However, everything works according to an agenda full of impromptu commitments: which is the usual fate of the nutters all improvisation and joy of living freely when they succeed.
If Mina is, as it seems, a smart girl, she must have seen that a decisive moment for her career is marked on her commitment booklet at an upcoming deadline. The moment he wastes his talent or manages to fix it forever, turning it into a profession.
She is certainly the first to realize that her myth as a singer for frantic fake youths already shows its ephemeral nature. His “authentic” character, the swarming character of the nutty girl, is already as fake as the authentic” Brassens’ character with hair falling off his forehead. And before long the girl will discover the new and inevitable relationships with the public. She who won him with so little effort will have to keep him, endure him loving of others, feel robbed, betrayed, find the strength to win him back. All of which mean only one thing: to seriously become a professional in the scene.

“Mina, have you ever wondered why the grocer’s boy likes you as much as the intellectual?”
“I think I know,” she says, “everyone understands that there is sincere enthusiasm in my singing.”

“Maybe it’s not just about the singing. I have the impression that a different and greater expectation has been created around her. Italians who love entertainment are watching her, I would like to say, with a messianic attention. Here she is, they tell themselves, she is the one we’ve been waiting for, the first real soubrette of the postwar period: elegant with provocation and a taste for the baroque, witty on the brink of sex, debonair in a world of false debonairness, endowed with an attractive voice, capable of filling the stage. And some already classify her preciously, attributing to her an untouchable, coin-like beauty, a warrior-like, Amazon-like, Bradamante-like femininity.”

“She runs too much,” Mina says with a tired smile. “I have confused ideas. Up to now I have relied only on my instincts. Besides, what do you want, I am so fond of my family, my province.”
I shake her hand, thoughtfully, before leaving her in the smoky cavern. Among his raw admirers.
I leave behind me in the bedlam a beautiful and talented girl who still has a choice: either a short and thunderous adventure or a long and interesting career; either the disgust of these stables of music or the exciting allure of the great theaters.
If you will make a good choice, as I hope you will, heed this advice: get rid of the sausage complex, de-provincialize, forget about walks with girlfriends on the cathedral square and Grandma Amelia’s risottos. You learn to be professional and cosmopolitan. It is the least expected of the first real postwar showgirl.

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They say about her

11 November 2023

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